MLB 10: The Show Online Impressions

Posted March 12th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

The MLB: The Show franchise has produced what has been widely regarded to be some of the best sports titles over the past few years but one major deficiency has held the series back. The online play options and performance has always been terrible, or at the very least disappointing, especially compared to how other games have advanced in the area. After spending some time online with MLB 10: The Show and reading a large number of accounts from others it can be determined that overall the performance has improved this year, though not nearly to the extent that was necessary and with a new crop of problems to deal with.

At the team select screen there is the handy connection assessment. I’ve made sure to only enter games with a “great connection” but oftentimes that will not hold up through the course of a full game or necessarily even correspond the experience being had. Still, I wanted to make sure I’d go into each game with the best chance of producing a good experience.

Performance wise I’ve had some consistently solid games. While lag is has not affected them for the most part that doesn’t mean they have been perfect. What is especially difficult is reading low pitches. The ball skips on the way to the plate, in a jumpy fashion where it disappears and reappears. This makes a low pitch in the zone nearly indistinguishable from a pitch in the dirt. There are also times where the ball is hit but you didn’t see the bat swing, which happens far less than last year but creeps in there occasionally and makes it tough to get a read on where it is going to initially react as a fielder.

Despite those things the games that are stable are much more responsive than last year. Pitching and hitting appear to be pretty balanced, outside of the issue with low pitch visibility. So it isn’t as much a guessing game where lucky swings resulting in home runs is the only way to score. I’ve strung together hits much more frequently than was possible last year.

I have to mention though that there have been some laggy games which I have backed out of. Many people out there have gone through really laggy experiences that make the games practically unplayable. It does not seem to be happening at the same rate as it has in the past however. Still there is that inconsistency which makes online play for The Show unnerving. Is it going to get really laggy? Is it going to disconnect? Is it going to freeze? Having a constant worry about those things makes it hard to relax and just enjoy the time spent playing.

Even with constant pleading to make a change the “Guess Pitch” feature remains active for ranked games. What this means is most people just sit on fastball every pitch. Not only does that mean that the user who is pitching completely loses any control over the pitch, and that is a completely helpless and frustrating feeling, but it pretty much forces people to either avoid throwing fastballs or only throw them outside the zone. I played one game where neither of us were using “Guess Pitch” and it was remarkable how much more fun it was than the others.

What had been available previously were “Guess Pitch Off” lobby rooms. This still was not as ideal as just removing the feature from all ranked games, but at least the option was there to find people who wanted to play the same way at a given time. For some reason they have been removed this year, instead a bunch of general or rookie rooms are available. Oh yeah, yet there are rooms specifically for people who like “Guess Pitch”, but none for those who don’t want to use it. Not sure why those are necessary given the default settings yet they removed a room that many preferred to use.

Another thing that people have asked for that hasn’t been fixed is an opponent quick-pitching. After getting set an opponent can go right to the plate with the pitch. This means they can prevent baserunners from taking leads or attempting to get a jump for a stolen base. It can also catch the batter off-guard if they are attempting to set that up or aren’t even ready for the pitch.

The pitch meter stays on screen even when at the plate. This is distracting and should be removed. What ends up happening as a hitter is the tendency to watch the meter instead of concentrating on the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand.

Last year I was told that variable camera views just missed the cut for MLB 09 as they couldn’t get the sync right and ran out of time. Somehow another year has gone by and it still hasn’t been provided. I really prefer to pitch from a behind the pitcher view and was disappointed that the option wasn’t in. I’m not sure why The Show keeps the catcher view as the default, but at least offline you can change it.

Options wise the jerseys, stadiums, and day/night are all selectable. Unlike last year the graphics are not dumbed down in an attempt to improve performance, at least not noticeably so. The game still looks great during online games.

SCEA has removed the rating of opponents after the games, which is a welcome change. Too many times people rated others poorly out of spite, because they lost, and not because the opponent did anything wrong. Instead now there are general statements to use that can help build up an online reputation instead of the star ratings.

Last year check swings were not possible in online games. This year they can happen but they can’t be relied upon. Basically anything close to a swing and its too late to change your mind, you really have to barely press and let off the button immediately to have a chance at it. It definitely is not the same level of responsiveness found offline.

I’ve also been bothered by a complete randomness in where pitches end up. I’m aware that this has been a problem found offline as well, but it feels to me as though it is magnified online. I have hit patches where my pitch location does not end up anywhere near where it was targeted even when hitting the meter perfectly. I’m not describing just small variances, which are expected, but examples like aiming a fastball inside and off the plate, nailing it on the meter, and having it end up outside off the plate by two feet. In the end I just end up feeling like I’m throwing and just hoping it somehow results in an out instead of pitching. Based on responses on Twitter I’m definitely not the only person who has seen pitch accuracy become completely random.

The online leagues are back with some improvements, though it is tough to assess the mode this early on with limited feedback. Soon after release of the game I attempted to create a league and was met with a 14 day restriction, which was ridiculous and insulting to have a feature they were not going to let people use. Thankfully it appears they have removed that restriction as I since have been able to form one. There are a ton of options in setting up the leagues which is really good at least from that standpoint. Finally this year owners can be replaced, however they still have not added the ability to reset a game’s results.

Most of the presentational elements are removed to quicken the pace of the online games and reduce the chance of desyncs. So I have to ask, when there are replays, why are they in super slo-mo? No one sits though them so they all just get skipped. Totally goes against the general idea of speeding things along. There are times I’m wanting to watch the replay but there is no way I’m going to painfully sit there for 45 seconds to do so.

Though it is more of a console issue, the disconnect between the PS3 friends list and the “Buddy List” in The Show is irritating. You have to add any friends from within the game to a separate list. I wonder how Sony hasn’t found a way, especially in their own game, to better do this and eliminate that hassle.

The SportsConnect Website, which hosted things such as leagues and box scores of online games, is not up this year. I used to like checking on my personal online stats and results there or tracking the games that were currently being played. There appears to be absolutely no web presence for the game which is disappointing.

In the lobby rooms you can choose to watch a tracker version of the ongoing games which includes commentary with “SportsCast Live”. This is not a new feature but is a unique one and if you have a friend playing or want to follow along with an online game being played it is a neat thing to check out. I believe the only way to view/listen to the games is in the lobby rooms, that you can’t do it from the friends list anymore.

Probably the biggest online flaw is that intentional walks are, in many cases, resulting in consoles freezing. This is now a tactic being used by some to get out of losses. Unfortunately this issue is going to require a patch, meaning the fix is well over a month away. In addition there are a couple stadiums that are basically unplayable due to freezes. The one that has seen the most problems is Tropicana Field.

There are reports of other problems such as games not being recorded or consoles freezing following a game while loading back into the online menu/lobbies. I have not experienced these things myself (0utside of a couple games that never showed up because the server had gone down). However as much as these instances are being cited a solution needs to be found for both.

Overall I’ve had some really fun games online. When it is running well The Show is very fun, strategic, and rewarding online. However inconsistent performance, freezing issues, lack of options and innovation, and puzzling design decisions continue to make online play a weakness of the series.